Search results for "self "

The question of identity

Author: joe

Tuesday, 20 November, 2012 - 22:09

One of the concerns that arises in the analysis of the relationship between selfhood and computerised media is a focus on authenticity. There is a tension that arises between the various personae that people are able to adopt in any given situation and the centripetal force that unites them in some supposed inner core. The relative status of these different personae - the extent to which they have fidelity with respect to the "primary source" of the "inner core", or the extent to which they perhaps mislead other inter-actors as to the true nature of that "real person", or even threaten the supposed integrity of the authentic self, is instantiated in the very functionality and interface of the computer screen which permits the same "logged-in, authenticated user" to adopt pseudonymous guises in online environments that can be slipped in and out of, framed as they are by windows one can "cycle through".

The people that Turkle describes, who find in the windowed interface a serendipitous enactment of their sense of their plural selves might, as Zizek puts it, be enabled to "discover new aspects of 'me', a wealth of shifting identities, of masks without a 'real' person behind them". In the postmodern world of simulation, where we as subjects trust in the fantasies presented on the digital screen rather than become modernist masters of the inner workings of the device, (the technics), instead we should "endorse this 'dissemination' of the unique self into a multiplicity of competing agents, into a 'collective mind'" and appropriate the logic of the "'decentred' subject".

Zizek provides a number of analogies for thinking about the efficacy of the production or construction of the decentred self, albeit that it might involve an "immanent violence and arbitrariness" since it has no authentic hinterland to which it must pay some sort of deference. Capra's film "Meet John Doe" portrays a character who adopts a "fake identity" but learns to adopt the subject position that the role demands of its actor. The cultural landscape is awash with imaginative explorations of the consequences of identity play, and in many of those story experiments, the narrative is resolved only when the protagonist learns to accept the identity which was at first mere play or a reluctant contingency. In "Sommersby", the interloper who adopts the identity of Jack demonstrates the fullness of his sincerity by accepting the penalty of death that is its price. The transience of identity necessary for persons to "become someone else" has its corollary in the tradition of fictions in which disguised characters become the object of some lover's affection, only for those affections to switch target as the disguise is revealed or passed along: in Twelfth Knight, Olivia easily accepts Sebastian as a husband despite having fallen in love with his disguised sister Viola, suggesting that accepting someone for who they appear to be is a perfectly adequate strategy.

Such ways of thinking about the self are clearly in contrast to traditional conceptions in which an authentic, continuous self acts as a guarantor of identity. Odysseus' testing of Penelope by adopting a disguise is an early instance of the depiction of a "true" identity which should be immune to the vicissitudes of changing circumstance or outer appearance. Woolf's “Orlando” is another case where a distinct and unitary identity both survives and underpins a shifting collection of personae and genders, adopted in dramatic episodic shifts. The protagonist's picaresque adventures are intertwined with the trope of 'The Oak Tree', the work which Orlando eventually completes, and which acts both as the "spine of the earth" and as the embodiment of change as it "flowered and faded so often", as it had over many years, "put forth its leaves and shaken them to the ground".

Erving Goffman provides useful tools for thinking about the shifting personae that we adopt. Using a dramaturgical model as the context for understanding interpersonal interactions, Goffman suggests that in any given situation we are actors on stage, a context which entails the existence of an audience whose observation of us is a primary structuring factor in our self-awareness. While on such stages, we stick to particular scripts - those we have learned, through normal processes of socialisation, which are appropriate to the context.

Such performances, enacted under the consciousness of observation, occur where Goffman calls front ‘stage’ or ‘region’ – the situation in which ‘act out’ the appropriate sorts of behaviours that we know are expected of us. Distinct from the ‘front’ region is a corresponding ‘back’ region – where alternative modes of performance can occur. Note though that this ‘back-stage’ situation need not be thought of as the refuge of the true or authentic inner self which can express itself away from the gaze of the audience: the back region is rather ambiguous, since it is commonly co-habited by fellow-performers who are also part of our ‘team’, also ‘letting their hair down’; and it is also a place where habituation can result in back-stage scripts becoming every bit as socialised in our behaviour as the formulae we follow front-stage. The back can be though of as just another front.

This dramaturgical metaphor opens the way to anti-essentialist conceptions of selfhood: contrary to traditional notions of the dimensions of our identity that have been considered to be stable, material and inescapable - sexuality, gender, kinship, race – not to mention the tangible common sense that we ‘are who we are’ (‘I am that I am’) – there is no inner core as such, but a constantly evolving and self-monitoring sense of self whose coherence is the subject of constant vigilence – either of ourselves or of circumscribing institutional and social apparatuses and their many ‘techniques’. It is only in the light of such possibilities that Butler could articulate the trouble with gender, and suggest that discursive formations of selfhood are anterior to the traditional material considerations of physiology and instrumental knowledge practices.


Categories: identity, performance, authenticity, front, back, queer theory, Goffman, Turkle, Zizek, Butler, Foucault, selfhood,
Comments: 2

Selves and computers

Author: joe

Saturday, 20 October, 2012 - 22:38

Sherry Turkle's work is amongst the most influential analyses of people's emotional engagement with online environments. Her ethnographic work on computer users in the 90s depicted the encounter of her background in psychoanalysis with the techno-utopianism of the MIT community in "Life on the Screen: Identity on the Age of the Internet". Her analysis of the relationship between selfhood and computer-mediated interaction started with the earlier work, "The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit" and has continued most recently in "Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other". Although some have characterised the trajectory of her work (in some ways, Turkle does this herself) as a movement from optimistic embrace of the possibilities that machines offer towards a more problematic view of how machines permit their users to become narcissists, the structure of these tensions can be seen throughout her work: Technically mediated control over human relationships can allow us to replace importantly liminal experiences with less risk-laden interactions. If such substitutions allow us to explore our identities, inhabit imaginative selves and bypass meatspace prejudice, so much the better; if they allow us avoid important coming-of-age rituals or maintain artificially arms-length distances to the people around us, then perhaps something is amiss.

Turkle finds an analogy between the interface of the modern computer GUI and the postmodern condition of the self. She finds that her respondents are able to switch between different selves by switching windows on the screen, and thus they are able to express and perform on their desktop interfaces the fragmented predicament of the self in postmodernity. The way that the enframing logic and style of media technologies reflects the conditions of subjectivity is a theme taken up in the work of Steven Shaviro whose analysis of networked culture (Connected: What It Means to Live in the Network Society, 2003) represents in its form the distributed, decentralised nature of both the network and the "fragmented and multiplied" self. Most recently, Shaviro's work on post-cinematic affect explores how the mirroring between subjectivity and mediation continues as cinematic editing styles demote concerns for continuity in favour of a mode which emphasises not only the non-linearity and glitch aesthetic facilitated by digital technologies but the neo-liberal tropes of precarity and just-in-time production. The artefacts of mediated culture now reflect a world in which not only is the casual employee's labour alienated, but also the specific instance of the self is, just like the media products consumed by the viewer, produced on-demand.

The encircling of media affordances and selfhood within similar frames of reference receives its most contemporary expression in the smartphone. The mobile phone is pervasive not only in the digitally advanced consumer societies of the developed world, but is also the technology of choice in developing countries as its practicality has leapfrogged other more bulky and expensive computing devices. The penetrative capacity of the smartphone ensures that people's lives in all their dimensions are accompanied into every corner of time and space with two-way media. Thus Urry's term "networked mobilities" is applicable equally to the identity of the owner as it is to the media products and interactions that the device enables. The pervasiveness that mobile computing brings about is a genuine shift from the previously separated and distinct experiences that constituted online life. Access to digital spaces is no longer a discretely portioned parcel of life but a continuous augmentation of most everyday activities, leading some commentators such as Nathan Jurgenson to argue that the diagnosis of technically mediated aspects of life as separate and inferior to "real life" in some way is guilty of a "digital dualism" which is at best anachronistic and at worst doesn't appreciate the entwined interlacing of physical and virtual life. Nevertheless to erase the distinction between the digital world and the space of embodied existence is to beg the question that Turkle and others would raise.

Categories: Turkle, Shaviro, Jurgenson, self, digital, media, affect, narcissism, mobile,
Comments: 0

Psychosocial approaches to wellbeing

Author: joe

Saturday, 23 June, 2012 - 22:39

Draft - a review of some psychosocial approaches to personal wellbeing including locus of control, self-efficacy, autonomy, identity mobility, locus of origin, socioeconomic status, perceptions of aetiology, relatedness and self-individuation. This draft starts with the issue of the uses of technology in people's lives and develops core concerns into the wider remit of general wellbeing.

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One of the core issues around using technology to support people in times of physical and emotional distress is the well-researched and documented need for people to feel that they are in control of the technologies in question, and that they are in charge of what the right responsibilities are: this is the 'locus of control' which, when internal and correctly composed, contributes both to physical health (Kobasa et al, 1982) and to mental wellbeing (Hill & Bale, 1980). Furthermore, seeking out information characterises the development and maintenance of a well-defined sense of internal locus of control and valuation of personal health and wellbeing (Wallston & Wallston, 1976; Klein & Cook, 2010).

Assessments of the perceived locus of control can indicate an individual's sense of self-efficacy, both in terms of their relationship with technology and electronic resources, as well as in the wider psychosocial realm of life. Mastery and control over the technological resources ameliorates associated anxiety and stress (O'Driscoll & O'Driscoll, 2008), while a sense of autonomy and personal competence contributes to more general wellbeing. One component of such wellbeing is "identity mobility" - a formulation which captures the need for individuals to have both a confidence in the self which reinforces personal agency, and the literal and metaphorical room for manoeuvre that allows for responsiveness to new situations and development into new phases of life (Todres & Galvin, 2011).

Alongside the importance of the Mental Health Locus of Control (MHLC) is the Mental Health Locus of Origin (MHLO), which identifies beliefs about the aetiology of psychological problems. The locus of origin is implicated in the way that individuals are likely to attribute causal factors or invoke explanatory models to account for difficult emotional and psychological experiences. Correlations have been shown between socioeconomic status and the propensity to attribute such experiences to either "interactional" causes such as interpersonal relationships in the case of higher socioeconomic status, or "endogenous" factors such as "organic, hereditary and moral" causes in the case of lower socioeconomic status (Hill & Bale, 1980).

Attribution of aetiologies is a key dimension of the process of sense-making that is involved in therapeutic activities such as CBT, narrative therapy and others. The ability to assimilate new or unexpected experiences into an ordered framework in which explanatory factors can be appealed to is a key component in personal wellbeing (McLeod, 1997; Bruner, 1986). Relatedness is what permits individuals to constellate disparate events and processes into a coherent and unified whole. It is also relatedness that expresses the tension between identify formation through the cultivation of self-definition, autonomy and individuation on one hand, and on the other, the development of interpersonal relationships and the cultivation of associated aspects of personality such as dependency, cooperation, collaboration, affection, mutuality, reciprocity and intimacy (Blatt, 2008).

Alongside autonomy, relatedness is one of the universal basic components of personal wellbeing (Deci & Ryan, 2000). For this reason it is one of the characteristics of adolescent development that autonomy is often contested and the sense of belonging often precarious. Autonomy requires effortful control - the ability to voluntarily regulate attention and direct behaviour toward goals, and repeated unsuccessful efforts to achieve goals often leads to fearfulness. Low effortful control is correlated with externalising problems such as aggression and anti-social behaviour while fearfulness is associated with internalising problems such as depression and feelings of inadequacy (Sentse & Ormel, 2011).

Bibliography

Blatt, S. J., 2008. Polarities of experience: Relatedness and self-definition in personality development, psychopathology, and the therapeutic process. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association
 
Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press
 
Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.
 
Hill D, Bale R. Development of the Mental Health Locus of Control and Mental Health Locus of Origin Scales. Journal Of Personality Assessment. April 1980;44(2):148
 
Klein B, Cook S. Preferences for e-mental health services amongst an online Australian sample. E-Journal Of Applied Psychology. March 2010;6(1):28-39
 
Kobasa, S. G., Maddi, S. R., & Kahn, S. 1982. Hardiness and health: A prospective study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42: 168-177.
 
McLeod, J., 1997, Narrative and Psychotherapy, London: Sage
 
O’Driscoll M. P. and O’Driscoll, E. C., 2008. The Impact of New Technology in the Workplace on Mental Wellbeing, London: Government Office for Science
 
Sentse, M. & Ormel, J., 2011. Child Temperament Moderates the Impact of Parental Separation on Adolescent Mental Health: The TRAILS Study. Journal of Family Psychology, 25 (1), 97-106
 
Wallston, K. A., Maides, S. & Wallston, B.S. (1976). Health related information seeking as a function of health related locus of control and health value. Journal of Research in Personality, 10, 215-22.

Categories: wellbeing, locus-of-control, self-efficacy, autonomy, identity mobility, locus-of-origin, socioeconomic status, aetiology, relatedness, self-individuation,
Comments: 1

Selfhood and blind-spots

Author: joe

Monday, 01 August, 2011 - 23:46

On the subject of identity, and who we should declare ourselves to be: Every time I sit down to write something I am fumbling in the dark, striving to establish where and who I am - what is my subject-position. In writing I work out where I am writing from, and who it is that is writing. No-one has the right to demand I mark out my position before I have spoken. If we all knew our assumptions and blind-spots before we opened our gobs, we would all be wasting our breath.

Giovanni Tiso at Bat Bean Beam puts it very well:

Are you gay, disabled, kinky or an anarchist? You need to find yourself a nice little community of like-minded or like-bodied people with whom to discuss your marginal concerns. For everything else, you must sign your real name and constrain your personality and opinions to suit – in other words, be the kind of person who can speak their mind without the slightest fear of repercussion or unintended consequence.
 
In other-other words: keep the most distasteful bits of who you are the hell out of my feed.
 
Giovanni Tiso, 1 August 2011, True Names, [http://bat-bean-beam.blogspot.com/2011/08/true-names.html]

Giovanni reminds me becoming myself is more than merely about me - a personal freedom; but in fact, becoming myself is a political act, which reverberates through the world around me. It greets, challenges, insults and comforts other people, also becoming themselves. Where would we be without the cushion of ambiguity, the ability to be reflexive enough to reassess, to shift our position?

A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between to terms. Looked at this way, a human being is not yet a self [...] Despair is not a result of imbalance, but of the relation which relates to itself. And the relaiton to himself is something a human being cannot be rid of, just as little as he can be rid of himself, which for that matter is one and the same thing, since the self is indeed, the relation to oneself.
 
Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death

Since my writing is my communicative action, it produces me, and is one of the means whereby I relate to myself - which is Kierkegaard's description of selfhood - the relating of the self to itself: hence the self is not a permanent essential thing, but something constantly achieved, in the jaws of despair.

Bora Zivkovic, 1 August 2011, Identity – what is it really? [http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/2011/08/01/identity-what-is-it-really/]
Alex Hudson, 28 July 2011, Why does Google+ insist on having your real name? [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14312047]
Chester Wisniewski, 27 July 2011, Google+ misses an opportunity - Privacy is an important part of openness, [http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2011/07/27/google-misses-an-opportunity-privacy-is-an-important-part-of-openness/]
Tim Carmody, 26 July 2011, Google+ Identity Crisis: What’s at Stake With Real Names and Privacy, [http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/07/google-plus-user-names]
Dave Winer, 25 July 2011, Why Google cares if you use your real name, [http://scripting.com/stories/2011/07/25/whyGoogleCaresIfYouUseYour.html]

Categories: selfhood, identity, google, kierkegaard,
Comments: 0

Self-placebo

Author: joe

Thursday, 28 July, 2011 - 20:33

"Self-tracking" is the meeting of lifelogging and self-measurement: to capture and record every moment of existence, and to transform it all into meaningful units of analysis. "Hey, I'm self-tracking, I hope you don't mind", I might say as I paid the cashier, spoke to my co-worker, confessed my ailments to my doctor. I transfer my rushes to the second terabyte network drive, but I don't stop to edit. Do I pause my life to log it?

And what do I quantify? Physiological measurements are the easiest place to start, since the physiological self is that which is already registered, enumerated, quantified and counted. I count! And then the psychological self - my moods come and go in finite quanta, and sustain for certain durations. I live and last! And my lifeworld, my phenomenality? Well there, I am in the service of my archive. I am a devotee of the annals, I am my own traces, now made tangible. The more I am numerable, the more I am remedied by numbers.

Self-tracking: in that peculiar concatenated phrase, marrying selfhood and assessment, is foreshortened an arborescent branching of a myriad canyons, each chasm an ellipsis. From this distance it is beautiful, the fractal of my life. Up close, I merely count the gaps - the irreducible can be reduced in this way. It is the lifeworld equivalent of a "close door" button in the lift: a cosmetic affordance which is sufficient to my requirements for control.

Kelly, K., 26 June 2011, "The Quantified Self", [kk.org]
 
Ross, G., 4 November 2010, "Placebo Buttons", [futilitycloset.com]
 
Silberman, S., 24 August 2009, "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why", [wired.com]
 
Wolf, G., 22 June 2009, "Know Thyself: Tracking Every Facet of Life, from Sleep to Mood to Pain, 24/7/365", [wired.com]

Categories: placebo, selfhood, measurement, self-tracking, lifelogging,
Comments: 0

Gloss

Author: joe

Wednesday, 06 July, 2011 - 18:50

Today I wrote a glossary for the wellbeing paper I wrote in May, following the comments I got from the reviewers. I had no idea which words to gloss, so I picked the interesting ones; and some were easy to gloss, others were difficult. Here they are.

agency
- the power of acting, or exerting one’s will in order to effect the course of events.
anagnorisis
- Aristotle’s term for ‘recognition’: the crucial moment of realisation in which a person or character either recognises someone’s authentic identity, or senses their own genuine nature, as if for the first time; the discovery or revelation of the truth.
articulation
- more than speaking, to articulate is to be able to connect things and join them together, such as words, sentences, ideas or narrative sequences.
catharsis
- literally, ‘purging’; a term Aristotle borrowed from medicine to refer to the arousal and release of emotion through dramatic narrative.
dialectic
- a heavily burdened word which refers to processes in which divergent views or positions are played out, through argument, conversation, dialogue or conflict, hopefully towards reconciliation; an unfolding of point and counterpoint.
diegesis
- the term borrowed from Greek to refer to the world of a narrative; the internal integrity of the storyworld, which is filled with people, places and customs which belong to that world.
exotopy
- literally meaning ‘outsideness’, this term is used by Mikhail Bakhtin to refer to the ability of an author to ‘speak’ the authentic voices of characters other than their own.
fetishism
- the transference of one’s own agency to a symbolic proxy; e.g. sexual arousal through objects (Freudian fetishism), or allocation of value away from human labour and onto commodities (Marxian commodity fetishism).
hamartia
- mistakes and errors of misrecognition, frequently a crucial element in ancient tragedies whose protagonists often fail to recognise someone they ought to know.
intentionality
- in phenomenology, ‘intentionality’ refers to the ‘directedness’ of conscious experiences: always towards objects, concepts, feelings and perceptions; hence it is related to but not the same as the common understanding which implies purpose and motive.
mimesis
- a Greek term used by Aristotle to refer to the ‘likeness’ of stories to the real world: their imitative capacity.
narratee
- the implied or actual audience to whom a story is directed.
narrative
- at its simplest, a narrative is a telling or re-telling of a series of events which are connected.
narrative configuration
- Louis Mink and Paul Ricoeur use the term ‘configuration’ to refer to the dual act of being able to grasp the different component or sequences of a narrative, while also apprehending the story as a whole, unified structure. Narrators and narratees, authors and readers, writers and audiences, all must be able to see both the figure of the entire story, and the sequences from which it is composed.
polyphony
- a term used by Mikhail Bakhtin to refer to the diversity of languages and voices that are present in the many strata of societies, the different eras of history, or the lines of great literature.
protagonist
- the lead role in the story, the main actor in the drama, the self of the individual’s storyworld.
spect-actor
- Augusto Boal’s terms for the new fusion of spectator and actor he wishes to bring about in both his drama and wider society.
technology of the self
- a term coined by Michel Foucault to refer to the means and techniques by which the self is shaped, both internally by the individual, and externally by influences outside the individual’s control.
unhomeliness
- a neologism created by the translation of Heidegger’s term ‘unheimlich’; I prefer unhomeliness since it implies a non-supernatural lack of a sense of belonging, rather than the word ‘uncanny’ which is sometimes used as a translation.
Verfremdungseffekt
- Brecht’s term for drawing attention to the artifice of dramatic performance - variously translated as ‘defamiliarisation’, ‘estrangement’, ‘alienation’ and ‘distanciation’; a mechanism whereby the illusion of narrative is punctured in order to highlight the highly contingent and constructed nature of stories and their worlds.

Categories: agency, anagnorisis, articulation, catharsis, dialectic, diegesis, exotopy, fetishism, hamartia, intentionality, mimesis, narratee, narrative, narrative configuration, polyphony, protagonist, spect-actor, technology of the self, Verfremdungseffekt,
Comments: 0

Milk teeth

Author: joe

Monday, 22 November, 2010 - 21:51

- on performing and pioneering

Truth on the stage is whatever we can believe in with sincerity, whether in ourselves or in our colleagues. Truth cannot be separated from belief, nor belief from truth. They cannot exist without each other, and without both of them it is impossible to live your part, or to create anything. Everything that happens on the stage must be convincing to the actor himself, to his associates and to the spectators. It must inspire belief in the possibility, in real life, of emotions analogous to those being experienced on the stage by the actor. Each and every moment must be saturated with a belief in the truthfulness of the emotion felt, and in the action carried out, by the actor.
 
If you only knew how important is the process of self-study! It should continue ceaselessly, without the actor even being aware of it, and it should test every step he takes. When you point out to him the palpable absurdity of some false action he has taken he is more than willing to cut it. But what can he do if his own feelings are not able to convince him? Who will guarantee that having rid himself of one lie, another will not immediately take its place? No the approach must be different. A grain of truth must be planted under the falsehood, eventually to supplant it, as a child's second set of teeth pushes out the first.
 
An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski

I'm fascinated by the practice of actors. Actors are imposters, strangers, aliens, pretending to be something they are not; but when they do it well, we say they 'inhabit' their roles - are 'at home', 'dwell' in the character, 'live in' the persona - vocabulary which implies something about belonging and home-beddedness. It's a strange and intense interplay between artifice and authenticity, with truth 'supplanting' falsehood.

I had a go for a few years in a community drama group, and without wishing to claim any kind of acting gift, I did experience that sort of simultaneity which consists of being myself and being someone else. I acted for about 8 years, and finally began to have the sensation of both being in control, and nevertheless 'in character' - self-watching as well as free-flowing, spontaneously contrived. To be 'saturated with a belief', and yet ever to feel it is not enough. It is a paradox, to be constantly creating the space which one then occupies.

I struggle to describe it. It is as though the outer edge of the performance is a bull-bar, an outstretched arm purposefully clearing an opening, into which the rest of the self can then expand. The new space is colonial - I settle there, feeling like a foreigner, imposing myself on the indigenous; but habitation makes the new world familiar, until eventually the land is mine. I am an occupier who has gone native. But have I expanded the empire of my self? When I pioneer this new territory, has my homeland grown? Or am I now an émigré, who has adandoned the old land for the new? Is my performance acquisitive or picaresque?

Categories: Constantin Stanislavski, acting, performance, self, territory, colonisation,
Comments: 0

Twitter

Author: joe

Tuesday, 24 February, 2009 - 02:41

>> notes discrete combinatorial system of language plus 140 character limit implies calculable set of determinable possibilities with finitiude

>> approx 14066 possible tweets

>> of which perhaps 99.9999% are senseless

>> those with sense are potentially exhaustible within the lifetime of a technologically advanced species

>> for freedom of expression without limit, therefore, we rely on the possibility of ever-mutating meanings under endlessly repeated signs

Categories: twitter, machine literature, finitiude, endlessly self-similar universe,
Comments: 0

Bogeys - or bodily betrayal

Author: joe

Thursday, 31 July, 2008 - 21:13

Featherstone and Hepworth note how a loss of bodily control can be associated with a loss of social acceptibility - they describe this as 'bodily betrayal'. On ageing, they say:

"Degrees of loss impair the capacity to be counted as a competent adult. Indeed the failure of bodily controls can point to a more general loss of self image; to be ascribed the status of a competent adult person depends upon the capacity to control urine and faeces."
 
[Featherstone & Hepworth, 'The mask of ageing and the postmodern lifecourse' in Featherstone, Hepworth & Turner, 1991. The Body: social processes and cultural theory, London: Sage, cited in Nettleton & Watson (eds.), 1998. 'An Introduction' in The Body in Everyday Life, London: Routledge, p1-20 (and by the way, isn't that gobful a nice exemplar of the constructedness of knowledge?)]
I wonder if their analysis extends to what Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctors tend to call 'muck'? Last year as my sinusitis entered its, oh, 3rd or 4th month, my doctor asked if my mucus was discoloured. I said I wasn't sure. Is a green bogey normal or discoloured? Here's something worth meditating on: your snot.

Do you notice when your snot is clear? Before my doctor asked this question, I had never considered that snot was any colour than green. I mean, snot is normally green isn't it? Aren't bogeys green? Actually, snot is only green when you have some kind of infection (it is a sign of bacterial colonies growing in your nose. Nice). But the rest of the time (like if you have hay fever) your snot is clear. And because it is clear, you don't notice. And by 'you don't notice it' I mean 'I don't notice it'. The clear stuff that came out of my nose when I had a bit of hay fever or early stages of a cold, wasn't 'snot', or mucus. It was invisible, irrelevant. How had I managed to think of snot as only green? What did I think the clear stuff was? I don't even remember. I wasn't even in control of my body to start with.

So when my doctor asked if my 'mucus' was 'discoloured', I thought, 'What - other than green? You mean, terracotta? Puce? Fuscia? Magnolia? Purple? Shit-brown? Or just normal, everyday green?"

I think I'm going to lump this with the rest of my parents' failings, alongside neglecting to tell me about smegma and ejaculation. I don't need to tell you how freaked I was in the bath THAT day.

Categories: body, snot, mucus, betrayal, embodiment, health, self, identity, competence, urine, faeces,
Comments: 0

A History of Madness... i

Author: joe

Monday, 14 May, 2007 - 23:34

A new edition of Foucault's A History of Madness (previously translated as Madness and Civilisation) was published earlier in the year, and there has been some notable turbulence in its wake. Foucault, (along with Derrida, Baudrillard, Lacan, Latour, Deleuze, Kristeva) seems often to be a lightning rod for the different sections of the left who were split in the culture wars in the US in the 90s, and more recently for the scientific disciplines' criticisms of contemporary humanities - the lack of rigour, and indeed, the lack of attention to 'reality' itself. Meanwhile those same critics are often referred to by Foucauldian sympathisers, rather disparagingly, as members of 'the reality based community', as though anchoring oneself in an objective world were naive and unintellectual, rather than an obvious choice.

I don't intend to attempt to resolve any of the antipathies here, or even to single out the likeliest candidate for 'correspondence to truth'. This piece of reflection is simply a working through. Much of my time is, besides, spent explaining the relevance of Foucault to undergraduate media students, a task which is itself not without some irony. More to the point, I'm currently embarking on a (currently nebulous) research project, which will involve attempting to unite various domains of knowledge which range from rhetoric, hermeneutics and creativity to health and physiology. As part of my search for and resolution of an appropriate research methodology, it seems a good idea to grasp what it is about Foucault that polarises scholars and their disciplines so much.

In order to complete my bachelor's degree in Eng Lit, I sat, amongst interminable others, an exam on medieval literature, for which I later discovered I scored a distinction. I remember distinctly one of the essays I wrote was a response to a question along the lines of: what is the relevance of medieval literature (I think it referred specifically to Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls) to contemporary society?

I responded confidently with my assertion that the nature of human experience is no different today than it was in the 14th century. While the complexity and number of cultural 'things' may have increased, and there may be more 'units of meaning' in the world today than there were then, though many social values may have changed, though the way society is structured may have evolved - nevertheless, what it means to be a human being has not. We still are born into a world as humans, experience it as only humans can, and die a human death as an unavoidable symptom of living. While there may be worlds of nurture and convention between me, Chaucer, Plato and Ugh the caveman, if we all somehow came together in some timeless place, we would look at each other with recognition.

We are defined, I argued, by our species. The challenges, both philosophical and sociological, involved in living together as creatures with will and freedom, desires and sympathies, have not permuted. The compromises of rule and negotiation are constant; the paradoxes of society and the individual are immutable; the human instinct to compete, and our propsensity towards altruism, do not alter from one generation to the next. Humanity, while it may be a temporary phenomenon on the face of the earth, is in itself an eternal thing. Hence, (I argued with reference to some talking birds), the challenges of Chaucer's protagonists are the challenges of our own brothers and sisters, and therefore of ourselves.

At the time I imagined I got the distinction because my argument was sound. Now I think I got it because my argument was conservative, and met with approval. It was a British answer, sound in the face, back in the early nineties, of French post-structuralists. I remember it must have been 1992 when I got my first lecture on deconstruction, delivered by a young turk of a lecturer, rather than any of the old grandees who prefered to keep their fragrant noses in Shakespeare and Hardy.

It seemed to me that this view was unassailable; and of course, I will now problematise it, though I may still leave it unassailable: the question is not simply, what if I were wrong, but also, how would we know? And even if humanity at base were the same, if we say that social values have changed, how can we dissociate those changed values from measuring whether our nature were the same? What does it mean for two human beings to have a similar nature, but see the world in entirely different ways? Mightn't we just as well be members of different species? If our values and hence ways of apprehending the world metaphysically are incommensurably altered, what can we possibly share, except a physiology, which we're unlikely to bring together, unless by force, since we clearly have no common values through which to court?

In the other, Borges tells the story of how he, as an old man in his 70s, finds himself sitting on a bench with a young man who turns out to be himself, 50 years earlier. As we may think, the child is father to the man, but whether we consider the youth or the elder as the leading edge of a man moving into the transdimensionality of potential, it turns out that nowhere can they commune, or establish a point of common recognition - even with oneself there can be no intersubjectivity:

"Half a century does not pass in vain. Beneath our conversation about people and random reading and our different tastes, I realized that we were unable to understand each other. We were too similar and too unalike... Either to offer advice or to argue was pointless..." (Borges, 1979, p9)


Borges, J. L., 1979, 'the other' in The Book of Sand, (London: Penguin)

Categories: michel-foucault, epistemology, knowledge, human-nature, jorge-luis-borges, history-of-madness, working-through, endlessly self-similar universe,
Comments: 0

Podcasting Will Eat Itself

Author: joe

Monday, 04 July, 2005 - 20:20

More Podcasting Will Eat Itself: this time we talk about, mass media, mp3s, barriers to entry and crocheted vulvas. Here's the shownotes:



Podcasting Will Eat Itself part 3 mp3

Duration: 19:15; Size: 10MB

Categories: podcast, endlessly self-similar universe,
Comments: 2

Podcasting Will Eat Itself - Part 2

Author: joe

Monday, 06 June, 2005 - 13:58

The second part of the first menticulture podcast.

Podcasting will Eat Itself part 2 mp3

Duration: 20:39; Size: 10MB

Categories: podcast, endlessly self-similar universe,
Comments: 0

Podcasting Will Eat Itself - Part 1

Author: joe

Monday, 06 June, 2005 - 12:58

The first part of the first menticulture podcast.

Podcasting will Eat Itself part 1 mp3

Duration: 16:55; Size: 8MB

Categories: podcast, endlessly self-similar universe,
Comments: 2

The study of critics

Author: joe

Wednesday, 01 June, 2005 - 14:04

In a book-shop in Hay-on-Wye - in the Cinema bookshop - I pass an aisle and catch out of the corner of my eye a section sign reading 'critography'. Already lost and desperate to find the exit from this maze of aisles and dust, I duck into another aisle and find pointers to the exit.

Outside, I say, "there's a section in there called 'critography' - what the hell is that?" We don't know. "Perhaps it's the art of laying out a bookshop, a methodology of how to categorise books, which has become such a debated subject it has developed its own field of inquiry. Maybe there's even a related field of how to categorise the various schools of thought on how to categorise books. A meta-critography." My companions, however, are nowhere to be seen.

None of us has seen a critography section anywhere before, or even heard of it. Back home I look it up, only to find it doesn't actually exist. This has become an anti-meta-critography.

Categories: hay-on-wye, critography, endlessly self-similar universe, bookshop, literature,
Comments: 0